The presence of new films from Stephen Frears and other UK directors has been felt this year.
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5 Sep 2013 - 12:12 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2013 - 1:00 PM

After this year's Cannes Festival was bereft of British films, the landmark 70th Venice edition has shown us what we have been missing. Indeed, two of the festival's break-out successes have been Stephen Frears' Philomena (pictured) and Steven Knight's Locke, where Tom Hardy (who has not long finished filming Mad Max: Fury Road) is seated in a car for the entire movie while his life falls apart at the other end of the phone. Shot over eight nights, the low budget movie quickly came together and is the second directing effort for Knight, who interestingly wrote Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. He has just written a sequel to the latter.

Even if Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer's long gestating Under the Skin failed to deliver on all levels, it certainly caught critics' attention, thanks to a sexy performance by Scarlett Johansson as an alien devouring Scottish men. “The idea of looking through the world with an alien eye became the spark for the film,” Glazer says.

Terry Gilliam is up to his old mind-bending tricks with the UK-US co-production The Zero Theorem, which has been widely compared to Brazil. It stars Christoph Waltz as an agoraphobic computer genius who has been waiting all his life for a call that would reveal the purpose of his existence. He gets to expand his horizons when he goes to work for ManCom, the giant company that rules the world with Matt Damon as its figurehead. Other “buddies”, as Gilliam call them, came along for the ride. Tilda Swinton is particularly hilarious.

Another British surprise was the dark comedy-drama Still Life, directed and written by The Full Monty producer, Uberto Pasolini. Eddie Marsan lives alone on a council estate and works for the local council attempting to trace the relatives of elderly people who have died alone and lonely. He has much in common with them. When his job is deemed unnecessary and he is sacked, he puts extra effort into his final case. Pasolini creates a poignant story that is deeply personal and delivers a punch at the end. Still Life will release here through Palace Films.

Sony Pictures are releasing Alex Gibney's latest probing documentary, The Armstrong Lie, which world premiered on the Lido. Interestingly, Gibney had all but completed his film on the cyclist's 2009 Tour de France comeback, with the ubiquitous Matt Damon set to do the narration. Supposedly, Armstrong was riding drug free in the event and when he appeared on Oprah and admitted that he wasn't, Gibney had to start again. While he was “pissed” by the magnitude of the deception, he wasn't about to let the project go.

“I benefitted and suffered from being embedded in the Armstrong army,” admits Gibney, who couldn't resist the charms of the former sporting hero. For the first time, Gibney has chosen put himself in the frame, because basically he was there. His existing relationship with Armstrong meant that when the lie was revealed, he had already gained his confidence and was able to speak to him on camera.

“He felt he owed to me to make it right, Gibney says. “He's also a great writer, the creator of his own myth. Yet his myth of the perfect hero had taken a hit. So instead of wearing the white hat and the black hat, he wanted to convey the message that there were shades of grey in the story.”

Gibney knew Armstrong had doped before the Oprah revelation because Armstrong had telephoned him. “It was difficult for him to understand the damage he'd done. All he thought about was winning – winning at all cost. Instead of being an observer I sometimes felt like a confrontational therapist.”

Now Stephen Frears is set to direct a dramatic version of the Armstrong story starring Ben Foster as the shamed cyclist. “It's very complex,” Frears admits.